People who haven’t visited Canada’s easternmost territory think that it is cold and barren, with nothing to do. Anyone who has been to Nunavut has a completely different impression.
Although winters are cold, did you know that you should wear sunscreen to prevent sunburn in summer? Because Nunavut is as vast as Western Europe, temperatures vary; however, they can rise as high as 30°C in Kugluktuk. In spring, sun reflected off the snow and ice can cause sunburn. And don’t forget that in communities north of the Arctic Circle, the summer sun shines for 24 hours a day (www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/sunrise.html
Nunavut’s tundra may look barren from a distance, but in spring and summer it is covered with 200 species of flowering plants, as well as year-round mosses, lichens and short shrubs. Look closely and you may find bright yellow cinquefoil and Arctic draba, purple saxifrage, fluffy white Arctic cotton and brilliant pinkish-purple Arctic fireweed (www.arcticwatch.ca/whale-watching/plant-life). In late summer, berries provide colour and nutritious food—blueberries, pale-pink Northern cranberries, black crowberries and dark purple Alpine bearberries.
Another misconception about Nunavut is that it is home to the same wildlife as southern polar regions. Although both regions share some species of whales and seabirds, Nunavut has many unique animals not found in Antarctica, such as caribou, polar bears, muskox, wolves, walrus and narwhals.
In addition, while the southern polar region is populated by only a few researchers living in scientific stations, a vibrant population of Inuit and immigrant residents inhabit Nunavut’s 25 communities.
A quick way to dispel the myth that there’s nothing to see here is to look at the “things to do” index in Nunavut Tourism’s website. It lists arts, crafts & clothing, birdwatching, camping, canoeing, cruising, dogsledding, hiking, kayaking, fishing, floe edge touring, hunting, music & performing arts, parks & special places, plants & flowers, wilderness lodges, wildlife-viewing, snowmobiling and boating. Whew! Stop a moment and catch your breath.
If you need more convincing, just glance at the schedules for any of Nunavut’s special events. Consider this partial list of activities for the annual summer Alianait Arts Festival: circus workshop, poetry jam session, drum dancing, art exhibits, concerts, throat-singing workshop, cabaret, kids’ fest, salsa dance workshop, story-telling, battle of the bands, songwriting & recording workshop, Greenlandic mask dance, Canada Day parade, fiddle workshop and film night. Most of the events are free (www.alianait.ca
CANADIAN SIGNATURE EXPERIENCES
Destination Canada has added several Nunavut tours to its Canadian Signature Experiences collection of best things to see and do in Canada (caen-keepexploring.canada.travel/travel-info/what-canadian-signature-experiences-collection
They include a narwhal and polar bear safari that departs from Pond Inlet on Baffin Island (www.arctickingdom.com ) and cruising in the wake of polar adventurers and Inuit through the Northwest Passage (www.adventurecanada.com
Any of these once-in-a-lifetime trips are guaranteed to quell any remaining misconceptions that you may have about Nunavut.
A new international airport is being built in Iqaluit. The expected completion date is late 2017 (www.gov.nu.ca/edt/documents/iqaluit-international-airport-project
The Government of Canada has introduced a Bill to establish Qausuittuq National Park on northern Bathurst Island as Canada’s 45th National Park. It will protect wildlife, including the endangered Peary caribou (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/eng/progs/np-pn/cnpn-cnnp/qausuittuq/ne/2015.aspx
A new Canadian Signature Experience is a spring caribou migration tour. Participants travel by snowmobile to search for the 350,000-member Qamanirjuaq caribou herd under the midnight sun. During the 14-day trip, there are opportunities to view eagles, grizzly bears and wolverines and try snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and ice fishing (www.arctichaven.ca
Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit, can easily be covered on foot. The Iqaluit Visitors Guide
provides information on attractions, local events and places to stay, eat and shop (iqaluitvisitorsguide.nnsl.com
The Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre features wildlife and cultural exhibits. The Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum displays Inuit artefacts and photos portraying the history of Iqaluit and the Qikiqtaaluk Region.
The Nunavut Legislature building displays excellent examples of northern art, including a mace made from a carved narwhal tusk, local silver and gemstones.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Nunavut has four national parks, four heritage rivers, 20 territorial parks and special places, nearly 24 existing and proposed national wildlife areas and 11 migratory bird sanctuaries. Adventures range from mountain climbing to white-water rafting. Winter sports include cross-country skiing, dogsledding and snowmobiling.
The main whale watching months are May to September, but you can potentially view whales year-round. You’ll never forget the sound of a 91,000-kg (100-ton) bowhead whale, exhaling through its blow spouts, only metres away. You may also see narwhals and belugas, called sea canaries because of their songs. The Explore Nunavut Travel Planner
lists prime viewing areas, as well as outfitters for nature tours (www.nunavuttourism.com
Sport fishing lodges, camps and outfitters offer single to multi-day trips for trophy-sized catches. Anglers can ice fish from April to June. In summer, boats and float planes transport fishermen to outpost camps. Whether you want to fly-cast for Arctic char or grayling, battle a massive lake trout or reel in a big northern pike on a fly-in canoe trip, Nunavut Tourism’s Sport Fishing Guide
provides the details (www.nunavuttourism.com/images/guides/fishingguide.pdf
Adventurous travellers can hike in Sirmilik National Park and Devon Island (Dundas Harbour), sea kayak at Ellesmere Island (Alexandra Fjord), as well as Pond Inlet, and canoe the Soper River on southern Baffin Island (www.blackfeather.com
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
The Nunavut Arts & Crafts Association represents artists and hosts annual art festivals and exhibitions where you can watch Inuit carvers coax spirits of polar bears, muskox and birds from stone, antler and whalebone (www.NACAarts.org
Reminders of Nunavut’s historical past are scattered across the territory. Near Rankin Inlet, Marble Island is an important Inuit historical site with sunken ships, old camps and remnants from the whaling era which began in the 1830’s (www.rankininlet.ca/tourism_marble.html
On Beechey Island, you can see the graves of three men from Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition.
In September 2014, one of Franklin’s ships, the HMS Erebus
, was found by a remotely operated underwater vehicle near King William Island.
In Qaummaarviit Territorial Park, near Iqaluit, visitors can examine semi-subterranean house pits used by Thule people between AD 1200 and 1700. Stone rings mark the locations of skin tents occupied by nomadic Inuit during the summers (www.nunavuttourism.com/parks-special-places/territorial-parks/qaummaarviit
MUST SEE, MUST DO
View dancing northern lights (aurora borealis) in the dark fall and winter sky.
Go birdwatching. Two huge colonies of thick-billed murres occupy Coats Island and thousands more nest on Bylot Island. As well, Coburg Island has a colony of thousands of seabirds. Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary has most of the world population of Ross’s geese. Vast numbers of migratory birds, including Arctic loons and sandhill cranes, arrive between late May and early June and depart around mid-August.
Look for beluga whales, sea birds, seals and polar bears. Floe edge (where the sea ice meets open water) tours on dogsleds or snowmobile-drawn sleds depart from the coastal communities of Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet and Igloolik.
In Iqaluit, enjoy day trips, hiking, cultural presentations, boat tours, snowmobile excursions and town tours (www.touriqaluit.com
Sample country foods like caribou stew, Arctic char and mikku
Mount Pelly (Kitikmeot): The well-maintained 15-km (nine-mi.) trail is located in Ovayok Territorial Park, east of Cambridge Bay. The park is a temporary home for migratory birds and a good place to see archaeological sites and wildflowers
Kugluk Territorial Park (Kitikmeot): This park is located 15 km (nine mi.) southwest of Kugluktuk. The rough 13-km (eight-mi.) trail crosses streams and spongy tundra to the falls, created by the Coppermine River (www.nunavuttourism.com/parks-special-places/territorial-parks/kugluk-bloody-falls
Akshayuk Pass (Qikiqtaaluk): Experienced adventurers take up to two weeks to complete this challenging 97-km (60-mi.) hike, located in Auyuittuq National Park. Backpackers encounter massive glaciers, river crossings and spectacular scenery in the narrow pass between Pangnirtung in the south, and Qikiqtarjuaq in the north. Go with a tour operator that handles logistics or arrange a pick-up and drop-off with local boat operators (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nu/auyuittuq/index.aspx
Between February and October, enjoy a family-friendly three or four-day Arctic Weekend Getaway departing from Ottawa. Packages include flights, hotel and an Iqaluit tour. Depending on the season and ages of the participants, optional activities include hiking, boat tours, kayaking, ATV adventures, igloo-building, ice fishing, dogsledding and cross-country skiing (www.arctickingdom.com/getaways/arctic-weekend-getaway/overview
PARK PICK: UKKUSIKSALIK NATIONAL PARK
Located southwest of Repulse Bay and surrounding Wager Bay on Hudson Bay’s northwest coast, Ukkusiksalik National Park is named after the soapstone found there. The 20,885 sq. km (12,701 sq. mi.) park is home to polar bears, Arctic wolves, caribou, birds of prey and waterfowl. In summer, visitors can hike in a vast landscape, discover reversing tidal rapids, explore ancient Inuit campsites or photograph the former Hudson’s Bay Company trading post. Visitors must contact the Parks Canada office in Naujaat well in advance of their trips to obtain the appropriate permits and safety briefing. Call 1-844-524-5293 toll-free in Canada or visit (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/ukkusiksalik
More info on National Parks and Historic Sites: www.pc.gc.ca